Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Who Needs Civil Rights Anyway?

From the Washington Post:

The Trump administration is planning to disband the Labor Department division that has policed discrimination among federal contractors for four decades, according to the White House’s newly proposed budget, part of wider efforts to rein in government programs that promote civil rights.

As outlined in Labor’s fiscal 2018 plan, the move would fold the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, now home to 600 employees, into another government agency in the name of cost-cutting.

The proposal to dismantle the compliance office comes at a time when the Trump administration is reducing the role of the federal government in fighting discrimination and protecting minorities by cutting budgets, dissolving programs and appointing officials unsympathetic to previous practices.

[…]

Under President Trump’s proposed budget, the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights — which has investigated thousands of complaints of discrimination in school districts across the country and set new standards for how colleges should respond to allegations of sexual assault and harassment — would also see significant staffing cuts. Administration officials acknowledge in budget documents that the civil rights office will have to scale back the number of investigations it conducts and limit travel to school districts to carry out its work.

Because we all know that public schools have always been the bedrock of equality in America and they are perfectly capable of taking care of their own problems without any intervention by the federal government.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Short Takes

House passes healthcare bill; future uncertain in the Senate.

Civil rights groups vow to fight Trump’s “religious liberty” order.

Cop ordered into anger management after shooting teenager.

Iraqi troops open front in Mosul to squeeze ISIS.

Russia, Turkey and Iran agree to safe zone in Syria.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Complex Solution To A Simple Problem

North Carolina is on the verge of repealing House Bill 2, the “bathroom bill” that got them in so much trouble over where people can relieve themselves.  But it’s running into trouble.

North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature and its Democratic governor announced late Wednesday that they had reached an agreement to repeal the controversial state law that curbs legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and sets rules that affect transgender bathroom use in public buildings.

But gay rights advocates raised objections, arguing that the compromise would continue to allow discrimination. And it was unclear late Wednesday whether the deal, if approved, would end the boycotts by sports leagues, businesses and others that have harmed the state’s reputation and economy.

The law in question, often referred to as House Bill 2, was signed in March 2016 by the state’s governor at the time, Pat McCrory, a Republican. One of the most contentious measures requires transgender people in public buildings to use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender on their birth certificate.

Phil Berger, the Senate leader, and Tim Moore, the House speaker, announced late Wednesday that they had reached the agreement with the new Democratic governor, Roy Cooper. A bill repealing House Bill 2, which the legislature will consider on Thursday, would also create a moratorium on local nondiscrimination ordinances through 2020 and leave regulation of “multi-occupancy facilities,” or bathrooms, to state lawmakers.

Leaving the regulation of biffys up to state lawmakers is what got the whole thing started.  Why are they regulating them at all?  What’s next, a fine for not putting the seat back down?

This micromanagement at the behest of people obsessed with the bathroom habits of other people is what needs to be regulated, if not medicated, and it’s one reason why good people don’t like government.  Government works best on the macro level and trusts the common sense of the population who by and large don’t care who is in the next stall.

Just repeal the whole thing and be done with it.  As opposed to Obamacare, no one is going to die because this law goes away.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The View From The Hammock

I have a great deal of respect for Garrison Keillor as a writer and story-teller, and aside from his singing — he makes a Gregorian chanter sound like a rapper — I liked his time on “A Prairie Home Companion.”  Now that he has retired he is sharing his insight on the goings-on near and far in much the same way he told of life in Lake Woebegone: anecdotes of plain people and their takes on life wrapped up in a soft comforter of nostalgia and attempted self-deprecation.  He’s the anti-Keith Olbermann.

But his latest column in the Washington Post — “What will be Trump’s legacy?  Who cares?” — comes across as a gentle message to the masses:  don’t worry what will befall us because in the long run presidents don’t matter all that much in our daily lives.

Presidents are royalty and we measure our lives by their reigns, but their effect on the country in general is greatly exaggerated. Take me, for example. Mr. Lyndon Johnson’s Selective Service System more or less governed my 20s, and now that I’m old and shaky, his Medicare is very helpful, but for most of us, presidents are part of the scenery, like the great stone heads on Easter Island. Millions of words have been written about Richard Nixon but his effect on my life was minuscule compared to that of my third-grade teacher Fern Moehlenbrock. Her kindness and cheerfulness grow larger and larger in memory, and Mr. Nixon recedes to the size of a dried pea.

We remember Johnson for his abdominal scar and his syrupy voice, Nixon for his incredible awkwardness and “I am not a crook,” and Gerald Ford for tripping on the airplane stairs coming down. Then came the Georgia Sunday School teacher and the actor and the Ivy League Texan and the Arkansas playboy and the stupefied Dubya reading “The Pet Goat” to a class in Sarasota when the planes hit the twin towers in Manhattan. We remember their voices, as done by comedians. Their so-called legacy is mostly as cartoons. The disasters they caused fell mainly on foreigners. The marble temples erected to worship them are a bad joke.

And now, after eight years of the most graceful and articulate chief since FDR, we get this crude showman with the marble walls and gold faucets. Most of the country dreads him as he slouches toward Washington to be inaugurated. I worry what effect he’ll have on children. Everything Mrs. Moehlenbrock told us — no pushing, no insulting, no lying, no crude talk — Mr. Trump does on a daily basis. But how will he actually affect my life? Not much.

That’s easy for a white Protestant citizen of the Midwest to say, but unless I’m missing something, Mr. Keillor and those like him have nothing to fear from a Trump administration.  He’s old enough to be on Medicaid and Social Security which are under scrutiny by the Republicans in Congress, but I really don’t think that Mr. Keillor is living on a fixed income or has to scratch to come up with his insurance co-pays.  He’s not dining on Meow Mix or splurging by using the favor packet from Top Ramen.  He’s not in danger of losing his dwelling because his landlord won’t rent to a straight white man, and I doubt that in his long career he ever faced workplace discrimination or the threat of being fired simply because he’s straight.  His Scandinavian heritage does not put him in danger of being deported, nor does his adherence to his faith make him a target by roving bands of Confederate flag-waving patriots.

I’m an entrepreneur, a writer. I don’t look to the government for a tax deduction for time spent writing work that got rejected. I’m not looking for legislative protection from foreign authors. Some people buy Dostoevsky’s books who might otherwise have bought mine: tough noogies. If I threatened to move to Mexico, no big deal.

Except he does have legislative protection from those who would steal his work and pass it off as their own, and I’m pretty sure that like me, he belongs to some kind of writers guild that provides him with legal assistance should he need to sue someone.  Kind of like a union.

The government that matters to me is local. I will always remember the day 14 years ago in St. Paul, Minn., when my daughter went into convulsions and I picked up the phone and in six minutes the rescue squad was in our living room, five uniforms looking after my girl and one uniform explaining to me about febrile convulsions. If you were in the midst of this crisis, Donald J. Trump would be the last person on earth you’d want to see come through the door. He would tell you all about how he won Michigan and bring in a podiatrist and give you a coupon toward one of his steaks. It’s going to be a long four years, people. Get back in touch with old friends. Take up hiking. Read history. But not books about Germany in the 1930s — it’ll only make you uneasy.

Mr. Keillor embodies the genteel side of the mindset of the Trump-voting Obamacare volunteer: government close to home is wonderful, but the further you get away the more they resemble alien occupiers imposing their will by decree.  But they don’t seem to bother him; they’re a minor inconvenience like a fly buzzing around his head while he snoozes in the hammock.

Must be nice.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

If Ignorance Is Bliss…

… then Kathy Miller is over the moon.

The chair of Donald Trump’s campaign in a key Ohio county said there was “no racism” before the first black President was elected and blamed black Americans for their own failures over the last 50 years in an interview with the Guardian.

In video of the exchange, published on Thursday, Trump’s campaign chair for Mahoning County, Kathy Miller, told a reporter that blacks have had all the same opportunities as their white peers.

“If you’re black and you haven’t been successful in the last 50 years, it’s your own fault,” Miller said, adding that it’s time for blacks to “take responsibility for how they live.”

Asked if Trump’s campaign has surfaced a racist undercurrent in American society, the campaign chair replied, “I don’t think there was any racism until Obama got elected. We never had problems like this.”

She continued: “Now, with the people with the guns, shooting up neighborhoods, not being responsible citizens, that’s a big change, and I think that’s the philosophy that Obama has perpetrated on America. I think that’s all his responsibility.”

Miller also told the Guardian that she “never experienced” racism or segregation while growing up in the 1960s and said about the civil rights movement: “I never saw that as anything.”

Well, you heard it, folks.  There wasn’t any slavery in America, there was no Civil War, no Jim Crow, the KKK is a sewing circle, nobody got lynched, Emmett Til committed suicide, Brown vs. Board of Education was a softball game, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks did nothing out of the ordinary, and everything was roses and rainbows until that foreign-born secretly gay Muslim agitator got himself elected president and stirred up our happy coloreds.

The worst part is that about 40% of the country either agrees with her or are willing to elect people who do.

UPDATE: She’s resigned.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Taking A Stand

The internet was distracted from Donald Trump’s latest distraction by the story of Colin Kaepernick, a professional football player who refused to stand up during the playing of the national anthem.  He did it as a protest against America’s treatment of minorities because, as he said,

“…I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard and effect change,” the quarterback said. “So I’m in a position where I can do that, and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.”

Of course this has generated a lot of backlash from the usual flag-waving “patriots” who are burning his jersey in effigy and making threats against him in social media.  I suppose it’s asking too much of them to appreciate the irony that their right to freely object to what Mr. Kaepernick did is what gives him the right to do what he did.

What is also ironic is that these same people who object so violently to Mr. Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the national anthem are the very same people who speak approvingly of “Second Amendment solutions” for candidates they don’t like or stand up and cheer for a presidential candidate who got where he is by telling them that America is broken and that the only way to fix it is to stomp all over those rights.

Former blogger and current Facebook friend Michael Spires reminded me of the words by Aaron Sorkin in his film “The American President”:

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free.”

Tell me which is more of a threat to our country: the refusal of a man to stand up during the playing of a song, or the willingness of a lot of citizens to restrict the rights of others because they don’t like what they’re saying or believing?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday Reading

Out of the Death Business — Matt Ford in The Atlantic reports on Pfizer’s decision to stop selling drugs for lethal injections.

Pfizer said Friday it would impose stringent controls on distributors to block its drugs from use in lethal injections, underscoring the pharmaceutical industry’s consensus against participation in the death penalty amid a nationwide shortage in execution drugs.“Pfizer makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve,” the pharmaceutical giant’s updated policy said. “Consistent with these values, Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment.”

The new policy’s impact on future executions will be difficult to measure. Many states with capital punishment have also enacted laws that shield the identities of execution-drug providers, making those drugs’ origins hard to trace. It is also unclear when or how often Pfizer-manufactured drugs have been used in U.S. executions.

But Pfizer’s move adds new barriers as states struggle to find reliable suppliers of execution drugs. Maya Foa, executive director of Reprieve, a U.K.-based human-rights organization, said in a statement that Pfizer’s move means “all FDA-approved manufacturers of all execution drugs have spoken out against the misuse of medicines in lethal injections and taken steps to prevent it.”

A Pfizer spokesperson said the company opposed the use of its drugs in lethal injections before today’s update. An earlier version of its policy on capital punishment took a less forceful stance on the issue than Friday’s update, insisting that “efforts to influence policy” were better directed towards legislators and public officials.“Our distribution plan, which restricts the sale of these seven products for unintended uses, implements our publicly stated position against improper use of our products and, most importantly, doesn’t stand in the way of patient access to these critical medications,” an October 2015 version of the policy stated.

“However, due to the complex supply chain and the gray market in the United States, despite our efforts, Pfizer cannot guarantee that a U.S. prison could not secure restricted products through other channels not under Pfizer’s control,” it cautioned.

Hail New Columbia — John Nichols at The Nation on support for admitting Washington, D.C. to the union.

When it comes time to write the Democratic platform, it is likely that the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaigns will have their disagreements. But there is one place where they can find common ground and address a glaring omission in the party’s statement of principles and purposes.

As recently as 2000, the Democratic platform declared support from what should be a basic premise of a party that advocates for voting rights and robust democracy: statehood for the District of Columbia. The platform on which Al Gore ran for the presidency that year declared, “Just as our country has been the chief apostle of democracy in the world, we must lead by example at home. This begins with our nation’s capital. The citizens of the District of Columbia are entitled to autonomy in the conduct of their civic affairs, full political representation as Americans who are fully taxed, and statehood.”

In 2004, however, the word “statehood” was dropped. While the party still advocated for equal rights and representation, it no longer declared that the residents of Washington, DC, should be able to lock in their rights as residents of a state that is equal to every other American state. Despite efforts by DC officials and statehood advocates to get the word restored in 2008 and 2012, the platform has remained vague on the issue.

That should change in 2016.

President Obama has endorsed statehood for DC—which, if estimates are correct, has a higher population than the states of Wyoming and Vermont—and so have Clinton and Sanders.

Clinton wrote a terrific article for The Washington Informer this week, in which she argued that support for DC statehood is critical to “restoring faith in democracy.”

“[Enfranchisement] isn’t solely a matter of individual rights. In the case of our nation’s capital, we have an entire populace that is routinely denied a voice in its own democracy,” explained the former secretary of state. “Washington, DC, is home to nearly 700,000 Americans—more than the entire population of several states. Washingtonians serve in the military, serve on juries and pay taxes just like everyone else. And yet they don’t even have a vote in Congress.”

“Hard as it is to believe, America is the only democracy on the planet that treats the residents of capital this way,” continued Clinton, who argued that

Lacking representatives with voting power, the District of Columbia is often neglected when it comes to federal appropriations. Many of the District’s decisions are also at the mercy of right-wing ideologues in Congress, and as you can imagine, they don’t show very much of it. Everything from commonsense gun laws to providing women’s health care and efforts to cut down on drug abuse has been halted by Republicans, who claim the District is an exception to their long-held notion that communities ought to be able to govern themselves.

Solidarity is no longer enough. We need a solution.

That’s why, as president, I will be a vocal champion for DC statehood.

She will get no argument from Sanders.

The senator from Vermont is a co-sponsor of the “New Columbia Admission Act,” a bill that would lay groundwork for making Washington, DC, the 51st state.

“Washington, DC, is currently home to more people than the state of Vermont, yet its residents lack voting representation in Congress,” says Sanders. “I think it is morally wrong for American citizens who pay federal taxes, fight in our wars, and live in our country to be denied the basic right to full congressional representation.”

This is a long-term stance for Sanders, who as a member of the US House, supported DC statehood initiatives.

Sanders once asked during a congressional debate, “How could I in good conscience say that it is appropriate for Vermont to have two seats in the Senate, which we do, to have a congressman who can vote on all of the issues, which we do, to have a governor and a state legislature which deals with all the problems facing our people, which we do, and then say that the people of the District of Columbia, with a population larger than Vermont and larger than some other states, should not be able to enjoy the same rights?”

“I could not make that case. It would not be a fair case. It would not be a rational argument,” replied Sanders, who explained, “This debate is about one thing and the thing alone. That is whether the people of Washington, DC, are entitled to be full citizens. To me the answer is obvious and I intend vote yes for statehood for the District of Columbia.”

Sanders and Clinton are right.

DC statehood is a voting-rights issue and a democracy issue. And the Democratic platform should make that absolutely clear.

Our History in Super 8 — Alastair Gee in The New Yorker on the revelations of gay home movies.

One home movie shows a telegenic group of men on a getaway at a shoreline cabin in the Bay Area town of Vallejo, in 1947. The friends sunbathe, laugh together, mug for the camera with more than a touch of theatricality. A man picks some orange flowers and tucks them behind his ear; another wears a grass skirt and dances the hula.

Another movie, from 1946, shows a house party where guests in suits and ties smoke cigarettes and drink from dainty glasses. Men dance in pairs, hands clasped, a head against a cheek. One giddily air-claps to music the viewer cannot hear.

Both of these films, and numerous others like them, are part of the private home-movie collection of Harold O’Neal, an amateur filmmaker who spent much of his adult life in San Francisco. Born in Stockton, California, in 1910, he was a reserved, somewhat shy man who worked as a rehabilitation officer for the Veterans Administration and later in personnel for the Army Corps of Engineers. Like many gay men and women of the time, he kept his sexuality closely guarded. But over the years O’Neal made dozens of home movies—of house parties, drag performances, skinny-dips, travels with his partner—many of which captured the rhythms and intimacies of gay social life long before it was allowed to flourish in the open.

O’Neal’s home-movie collection spent decades in obscurity, as home movies often do. Then, in the mid-nineteen-nineties, a San Francisco filmmaker, Peter Stein, put an ad on local television soliciting historic footage for a documentary he was making about the Castro, and O’Neal responded. Only a few minutes of his footage, showing parties, San Francisco street scenes, and O’Neal standing atop Coit Tower, ended up in the film, but Stein realized that O’Neal’s recordings were valuable artifacts of San Francisco gay history. Stein alerted Susan Stryker, who was the executive director of the city’s GLBT Historical Society, and on the drive home from a vacation Stryker stopped in Washington, where O’Neal had relocated, to ask him to donate his films. O’Neal was ambivalent. As Stryker was packing up to leave, O’Neal’s life partner, George Torgerson, walked out to the car and handed her paper shopping bags filled with reels. “He wants to let go, but he can’t let go, so I’m letting go for him,” Torgerson said.

With O’Neal’s permission, the movies now live in the GLBT Historical Society archives amid a remarkably varied set of holdings, from a sewing machine used to create the first rainbow flags to the sequinned outfits worn by the disco star Sylvester. Clips from several of the films also appear in “Reel in the Closet,” a new documentary about gay home movies by the Bay Area independent filmmaker Stu Maddux. Maddux read about the Society’s work and spent a year digging through the archives. “To see those same types of mannerisms and the same types of laughter, and laughter at the same things, just made me feel like I wasn’t alone in time,” Maddux told me. “Like my generation and the generations around me are not alone in time.” His film includes footage from a tape discovered in an unmarked can at a San Jose flea market, showing the San Francisco lesbian bar Mona’s Candle Light around 1950. A drag king called Jimmy Reynard introduces a chanteuse; female patrons with immaculate, gamine haircuts listen at tables; there is the twinkle of jewelry. In another clip, from 1978, the documentarian Dan Smith recorded people on the streets of the Castro describing their reactions to the murder of Harvey Milk. There are long-haired men, cops, a leather aficionado. “Nobody filmed us,” Smith says in “Reel in the Closet.” “So we really thought that in order to be recorded it was necessary for us to do it ourselves.”

One challenge for home-movie preservationists is that most footage, having been shot for a private audience of family and friends, isn’t particularly accessible to the general viewer. But what the movies lack in narrative cogency they make up for in a sense of immersion—of giving viewers the feeling of dropping directly into the private worlds of strangers. In the case of gay home movies, the viewing experience is complicated, and enriched, by the knowledge of what’s to come, for good and for bad—the liberation of Stonewall, the devastation of the AIDS crisis, the undoing of the Defense of Marriage Act, which couples like O’Neal and Torgerson, who both died in the mid-aughts, never got to see.

Jim Morin — Lookin’ pretty.

Morin 05-15-16

Doonesbury — The happy couple.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Short Takes

A car bomb explodes in Turkey, killing seven police officers.

President Obama welcomed world leaders to Washington for a nuclear security summit.

Yet another mass shooting, this time at a bus station in Richmond, Virginia.

All talk… Two more GOP senators agree to meet with Judge Merrick Garland.

Mississippi joins the boycott-bait states thanks to the passage of a law that enshrines gay discrimination.  (Like anyone would go there on purpose.)

R.I.P. Zaha Hadid, architect; the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Coloring Their Judgment

Did you know that Barack Obama is black?  Well, the New York Times finally figured it out.

After years of watching political opponents question the president’s birthplace and his faith, and hearing a member of Congress shout “You lie!” at him from the House floor, some African-Americans saw the move by Senate Republicans as another attempt to deny the legitimacy of the country’s first black president. And they call it increasingly infuriating after Mr. Obama has spent seven years in the White House and won two resounding election victories.

“Our president, the president of the United States, has been disrespected from Day 1,” Carol Richardson, 61, said on Wednesday as she colored a customer’s hair at Ultra Beauty Salon in Hollywood, S.C., a mostly black town near Charleston. “The words that have been said, the things the Republicans have done they’d have never have done to another president. Let’s talk like it is, it’s because of his skin color.”

Reflecting on the Supreme Court vacancy, Bakari Sellers, a former state representative from Denmark, S.C., likened the Senate treatment of the president to the 18th century constitutional compromise that counted black men as equivalent to three-fifths of a person.

“I guess many of them are using this in the strictest construction that Barack Obama’s serving three-fifths of a term or he’s three-fifths of a human being, so he doesn’t get to make this choice,” Mr. Sellers said. “It’s infuriating.”

The anger and outrage that Mr. McConnell’s position has touched off among African-Americans could have implications for the presidential election. Leading African-American Democrats are trying to use it to motivate rank-and-file blacks to vote in November, the first presidential election in a decade in which Mr. Obama will not be on the ballot and in which Democrats fear black participation could drop.

“Anger becomes action when it’s directly tied to a moment, and the moment now is the election on Nov. 8,” said Stacey Abrams, a Democratic state representative from Georgia and the House minority leader there, adding that Mr. Scalia’s death meant that this presidential campaign could no longer be construed as a mere “thought exercise.”

Nice of the Grey Lady to catch up.  Maybe now they’ll get clued into what the people really mean when they say they “want their country back,” or why the Republicans and conservatives recoil and shout “Socialism!” when the president proposes a healthcare plan that was a reprint of what Gov. Mitt Romney put in place in Massachusetts, which was originally conceived by Sen. Robert Dole (R-KS).  Or when the Orcosphere calls President Obama a lawless dictator for issuing executive orders (despite the fact that presidents do that) or lazy for taking a vacation even though he’d have to take the rest of his term off to catch up with George W. Bush’s use of time off.

I’m not sure why anyone thinks this is some complicated convergence of socioeconomic trends and intricate political movement of the dials between liberal, moderate, or conservative paradigms.  At least since the 1950’s the base of the Republican party has been benignly racist — they’re not burning crosses out in the woods but they wouldn’t mind toasting a few marshmallows as they pass by — and genially intolerant of people of other races, ethnic heritages, or non-Protestant faiths; they can clean their houses and take care of the kids, but wouldn’t let their son or daughter marry one.  And they’ve never been too wild about women having control over their own bodies or those folks down the street who are both men and live together as a couple.

Republicans are especially sensitive about the notion that they are diminishing Mr. Obama because of his race, and spokesmen for several Republican senators, including Mr. McConnell and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, declined to comment or would not make the senators available for comment.

The suggestion that racism is playing a role angers Mr. McConnell’s friends, who point out that his formative political experience was working for a Republican senator who supported civil rights, that he helped override President Ronald Reagan’s veto of sanctions against the apartheid government in South Africa and that he is married to an Asian-American woman.

But in the aftermath of Mr. McConnell’s statement on Saturday, a growing chorus of black voices is complaining that such a refusal to even consider a Supreme Court nominee would never occur with a white president.

“It’s more than a political motive — it has a smell of racism,” said Representative G. K. Butterfield, Democrat of North Carolina, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“I can tick instance after instance over the last seven years where Republicans have purposely tried to diminish the president’s authority,” Mr. Butterfield said. “This is just really extreme, and leads me to the conclusion that if this was any other president who was not African-American, it would not have been handled this way.”

What I don’t understand is why they try so hard to deny it.  It’s obvious to anyone who listens to any of the candidates running for federal or state offices for any more time than just a soundbite.  It’s what has defined the GOP at least within my living memory, which goes back to the 1950’s.  Sure, there have been racist Democrats and Republicans who support affirmative action and school desegregation, but ever since the GOP aligned themselves with movements like the Christian Coalition and the philosophy of the National Review, race has been a part of their platform so succinctly stated by Jessamine Milner in 1974.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther KingToday is the federal holiday set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday.

For me, growing up as a white kid in a middle-class suburb in the Midwest in the 1960’s, Dr. King’s legacy would seem to have a minimum impact; after all, what he was fighting for didn’t affect me directly in any way.  But my parents always taught me that anyone oppressed in our society was wrong, and that in some way it did affect me.  This became much more apparent as I grew up and saw how the nation treated its black citizens; those grainy images on TV and in the paper of water-hoses turned on the Freedom Marchers in Alabama showed me how much hatred could be turned on people who were simply asking for their due in a country that promised it to them.  And when I came out as a gay man, I became much more aware of it when I applied the same standards to society in their treatment of gays and lesbians.

Perhaps the greatest impression that Dr. King had on me was his unswerving dedication to non-violence in his pursuit of civil rights.  He withstood taunts, provocations, and rank invasions of his privacy and his life at the hands of racists, hate-mongers, and the federal government, yet he never raised a hand in anger against anyone.  He deplored the idea of an eye for an eye, and he knew that responding in kind would only set back the cause.  I was also impressed that his spirituality and faith were his armor and his shield, not his weapon, and he never tried to force his religion on anyone else.  The supreme irony was that he died at the hands of violence, much like his role model, Mahatma Gandhi.

There’s a question in the minds of a lot of people of how to celebrate a federal holiday for a civil rights leader. Isn’t there supposed to be a ritual or a ceremony we’re supposed to perform to mark the occasion?  But how do you signify in one day or in one action what Dr. King stood for, lived for, and died for?  Last August marked the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech.  That marked a moment; a milestone.  Today is supposed to honor the man and what he stood for and tried to make us all become: full citizens with all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; something that is with us all day, every day.

For me, it’s having the memories of what it used to be like and seeing what it has become for all of us that don’t take our civil rights for granted, which should be all of us, and being both grateful that we have come as far as we have and humbled to know how much further we still have to go.

*

Today is also a school holiday, so blogging will be on a holiday schedule.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sunday Reading

The Moment — Dani McClain at The Nation notes that we are seeing the dawn of a new civil rights movement.

Back in August, some observers drew comparisons between the shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, and the 1955 murder of Emmett Till. If parallels to civil rights movement history are helpful now, then let yesterday’s announcement that a Staten Island grand jury won’t indict the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death be a sign that we’re somewhere closer to 1963—when a series of devastating setbacks and subsequent widespread outrage transformed the civil rights struggle—than we are to Till’s lynching, that earlier consciousness-raising moment. There was a perfect storm this week: the continuing fallout of the failed indictment of Wilson; the news of the outcome in the Garner case; a Cleveland newspaper’s efforts to discredit and sling mud on the parents of a 12-year-old boy killed by police. This moment has the potential to catapult change, just as a series of events that transpired eight years after Till was killed did.

The murder of 14-year-old Till and the 1963 murder of four black girls at Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church both became national stories that hit Americans square in the chest, reminding them of the Jim Crow system of justice in which black people had no rights that whites were bound to respect. With the killings of Garner, Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice and others, we are all reminded that black life is still too often devalued, and that police officers are often not subject to the rule of law. That reminder has packed a similar emotional wallop. It is all coming so quickly: these announcements that a trial isn’t even needed to determine the police officer’s guilt or innocence. These exonerations through other means. People are taking to the streets nationwide to protest: just last night saw an outpouring of response in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta and beyond.

[…]

Granted, those dead at the hands of police today are not civil rights leaders, or children killed in their place of worship. For some observers, these more recent victims are unsympathetic: they were involved in roughing up a bodega owner or selling untaxed cigarettes. But for others, we find ourselves at a similar moment fifty years after that critical turning point in civil rights movement history—with “Again?” on our lips and a familiar feeling of dread in response to the violence we witness on the video of the killing of Eric Garner, the incredible amount of force used on a man who announced over and over again, “I can’t breathe.”

What would it take to scrap and rebuild a system that makes it nearly impossible to indict an officer when he or she kills a civilian? What is the landmark legislation that all this fury in the streets can demand and drive? Some of the organizers and strategists who are responsible for the displays of coordinated, righteous protest are putting their minds on these questions. The sense of being up against an unchangeable justice system designed to brutalize black life at the slightest perception of provocation can make one feel that the United States has proven itself to be a failed political experiment, one in which some people’s rights will never be secured. But if the history of this country’s most revered revolutionary period is any guide—and if a policy program is developed to channel all this growing energy—then we’re just getting started.

No Less Convinced — Charlie Pierce on the unraveling at Rolling Stone.

I don’t know what to make of the suddenly unravelling Rolling Stone account of a shocking alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. Right now, it appears that the magazine is back-pedaling on both feet, while trying to pin everything on the woman who was the victim of the alleged crime, and they appear to be doing it under pressure from, among other quarters, The Washington Post. For myself,  I would like to the Post to clarify further this curious admission from the fraternity’s official statement.

Our initial doubts as to the accuracy of the article have only been strengthened as alumni and undergraduate members have delved deeper,” according to the statement.

What “alumni” would those be? Frat-brother lawyers working pro bono? Law enforcement officials in their Wahoo footie pajamas, moonlighting as ratfckers for the old brotherhood? And what undergraduates have “delved deeper,” and what did that involve and where were they delving precisely?

There is a part of me that always thought the story – and the ground rules under which it was pursued – seemed a little hinky. However, at the same time, I’m no less convinced than I was before that something very bad happened to this woman at UVa. If both of those things are true, then a terrible disservice has been done to a lot of different people, including the victim, and I’m not at the point yet that I’m going to take the word of a fratenity’s lawyers that nothing untoward happened at all. I am, however, convinced that we are dealing here with a horrifying breakdown in communications – between source and reporter, reporter and editor, editor and publisher, and magazine and readers – that may well have consequences far beyond this one case. I know a brave someone who’s been working hard on the issue of sexual assaults on campus. This is not a job for the timid and, no matter how the RS affair plays out, it isn’t going to be made any easier, because the howler monkeys already have come out to play. I know we say this a lot but, dammit, absolutely nothing good will come of this.

World Wide Web Not So Much — Vauhini Vara in The New Yorker on how the internet is limited around the world.

In September of last year, Chinese authorities announced an unorthodox standard to help them decide whether to punish people for posting online comments that are false, defamatory, or otherwise harmful: Was a message popular enough to attract five hundred reposts or five thousand views? It was a striking example of how sophisticated the Chinese government has become, in recent years, in restricting Internet communication—going well beyond crude measures like restricting access to particular Web sites or censoring online comments that use certain keywords. Madeline Earp, a research analyst at Freedom House, the Washington-based nongovernmental organization, suggested a phrase to describe the approach: “strategic, timely censorship.” She told me, “It’s about allowing a surprising amount of open discussion, as long as you’re not the kind of person who can really use that discussion to organize people.”

On Thursday, Freedom House published its fifth annual report on Internet freedom around the world. As in years past, China is again near the bottom of the rankings, which include sixty-five countries. Only Syria and Iran got worse scores, while Iceland and Estonia fared the best. (The report was funded partly by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United States Department of State, Google, and Yahoo, but Freedom House described the report as its “sole responsibility” and said that it doesn’t necessarily represent its funders’ views.)

China’s place in the rankings won’t come as a surprise to many people. The notable part is that the report suggests that, when it comes to Internet freedom, the rest of the world is gradually becoming more like China and less like Iceland. The researchers found that Internet freedom declined in thirty-six of the sixty-five countries they studied, continuing a trajectory they have noticed since they began publishing the reports in 2010.

Earp, who wrote the China section, said that authoritarian regimes might even be explicitly looking at China as a model in policing Internet communication. (Last year, she co-authored a report on the topic for the Committee to Protect Journalists.) China isn’t alone in its influence, of course. The report’s authors even said that some countries are using the U.S. National Security Agency’s widespread surveillance, which came to light following disclosures by the whistle-blower Edward Snowden, “as an excuse to augment their own monitoring capabilities.” Often, the surveillance comes with little or no oversight, they said, and is directed at human-rights activists and political opponents.

China, the U.S., and their copycats aren’t the only offenders, of course. In fact, interestingly, the United States was the sixth-best country for Internet freedom, after Germany—though this may say as much about the poor state of Web freedom in other places as it does about protections for U.S. Internet users. Among the other countries, this was a particularly bad year for Russia and Turkey, which registered the sharpest declines in Internet freedom from the previous year. In Turkey, over the past several years, the government has increased censorship, targeted online journalists and social-media users for assault and prosecution, allowed state agencies to block content, and charged more people for expressing themselves online, the report noted—not to mention temporarily shutting down access to YouTube and Twitter. As Jenna Krajeski wrote in a post about Turkey’s Twitter ban, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed in March, “We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. They will see the power of the Turkish Republic.” A month later, Russian President Vladimir Putin, not to be outdone by Erdoğan, famously called the Internet a “C.I.A. project,” as Masha Lipman wrote in a post about Russia’s recent Internet controls. Since Putin took office again in 2012, the report found, the government has enacted laws to block online content, prosecuted people for their Internet activity, and surveilled information and communication technologies. Among changes in other countries, the report said that the governments of Uzbekistan and Nigeria had passed laws requiring cybercafés to keep logs of their customers, and that the Vietnamese government began requiring international Internet companies to keep at least one server in Vietnam.

Doonesbury — Raiders of the lost arc…

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Begging The Question

Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri has ordered a state of emergency for a situation that hasn’t happened yet.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) declared a state of emergency Monday, preempting a grand jury decision in the Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown that is expected to be delivered any day.

The order establishes that the St. Louis County police will be in charge of law enforcement in Ferguson in response to any unrest. It will work in coordination with the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the St. Louis city police. The order lasts for 30 days.

Nixon also issued an executive order activating the Missouri National Guard to assist local law enforcement.

This is different than if a hurricane or a blizzard was predicted and the governor did it out of a sense of precaution.  Weather can be predicted to a degree of certainty.  It’s also different than a situation where there’s a planned demonstration at an event; for example, a march on the Mall in Washington, D.C. and it might be prudent to put out some extra protection for the large crowds.

But this is a grand jury decision, and apparently the governor feels that the ruling will generate violence and damage from, well, those people, and you never know how they will react because, well, you never know with them.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Our Better Angels

A lot of people are upset at the article in the New York Times that labeled Michael Brown as “no angel.”  It’s not that the article makes the case that because he did things that a lot of eighteen year old kids do such as blaze a doobie and get into rap music, that somehow he got what was coming to him.  It doesn’t.

The issue is the disproportionate level of law enforcement being meted out to people of color and minorities and at a harsher level than it is to others who are neither.  The situation in Ferguson is the dramatic demonstration, showing us just one example of what happens in communities all over this country.  It also brings out the angels of our nature; the knee-jerk response by defenders of the police and the visceral anger of a community that has all too long felt both ignored and victimized by their elected officials and authorities.

Whether or not one young man was “no angel” isn’t the point.  Neither was the person who killed him, nor the people who created the situation that caused it, or those who exploited it.  None of us are.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Peace and Quiet

Last night was a calm night in Ferguson compared to the night before.

Only six people were arrested in Ferguson, Missouri, overnight as fewer “agitators and criminals” attended protests in the wake of the fatal police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, police said.

It wasn’t because a militarized police force rolled through town in their armed personnel carriers.  It was because the police (with one notable exception) dealt with the demonstrators with a proportional response and attention being paid to the concerns of the people on both sides by people who can make a difference in both tone and law enforcement.

People listening to other people has made the difference.  Or, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, “talk, talk, talk is better than war, war, war.”

Short Takes

ISIS tried to ransom reporter before killing him.

Special Forces tried to rescue hostages in Syria.

Supreme Court stays marriage equality in Virginia.

Attorney General Holder meets with police and protestors in Ferguson.

Rioting in Liberia over ebola quarantine.

The Tigers shut out the Rays 6-0.

Happy birthday, SJW.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Another Long Night

Police used sound cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowds in Ferguson last night.

Two people were shot and police launched several rounds of tear gas late Monday night to clear the streets of Ferguson amid a tense confrontation between police and protesters, authorities said Tuesday.

Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who is in charge of security in Ferguson, told CNN that two people in the crowd were hit by gunshots. He said the shots weren’t fired by police.

The renewed police activity started about a half-hour after community leaders appeared to have defused a showdown between several hundred protesters and a wall of law enforcement officers 60 wide and five deep.

The protesters, some of them throwing bottles, surged forward and back as the officers held their ground. An armored vehicle began moving toward the crowd, and as clergymen and other community leaders locked arms to hold the protesters back, the crowd appeared to retreat about 10 p.m. (11 p.m. ET).

Captain Johnson came out and spoke to the press at 2:30 a.m. CDT Tuesday morning and said that there were a small number of people in the crowd who were trying to provoke the police.  He emphasized that while shots were fired, none of them were fired by the police.

I have to give credit to Capt. Johnson for keeping a cool head and a perspective on the rights of the people to protest and the police to keep order and for everyone to be safe.  He’s doing his best to avoid escalating the situation himself.

Short Takes

Ferguson: The curfew has been lifted and a grand jury will hear testimony in the shooting of Michael Brown.

Iraqi dam re-taken by Iraqi and Kurdish forces from ISIS.

No deal yet on Israel-Gaza peace talks.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry gets mugged.

R.I.P. Former Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont; Radio and TV announcer Don Pardo, 96; voice of S.N.L. and countless shows.

The Tigers had the night off.